SCHWEBEN “Trees” C32 (Cosmic Winnetou)


There’s an easy connection to make between ambient music and forest wandering. You’re just there, communing with nature, and every sound that surrounds you is “ambient” in its basic form: it produces “an encompassing atmosphere.” Schweben, aka Philipp Hager, takes this to its obvious extreme, marrying field recordings with ambient music (synthesizers and such) to produce “an encompassing atmosphere” that you can take with you anywhere – you don’t have to be stuck out in the middle of the woods to have a similar experience. But what you should have is headphones, because otherwise you’re going to miss out on the subtleties of the delicate sonic experience (which you should already be planning for anyway, knowing that you bought this tape from Cosmic Winnetou).
Each track is arboreal by design; there’s “Arbol del Tule” (Tree of Tule, Mexico), “Tree of Life,” “Lone Cypress,” “Major Oak,” and “Baobab.” Each is a gentle paean to growth, as the long-form, patient tones mimic the development of plants. You can almost see sprouts and buds stretching and blooming as you listen to Trees, the intricate detail of the sounds zoomed in to the organic reactions. Sounds intimate, solitary, relaxing, doesn’t it? It sure does! And it delivers as you sink deeper into the trance, the scent of bark and leaves and needles hitting your nose, the underbrush crackling beneath your boots. Maybe instead of taking the woods with you back into civilization you should just give in and take your Walkman out into the woods – I’m actually thinking that’s the best way to go about this right now.

MODUS PONY “Systemmetry” C5 (Superpolar TaÏps)


This is Superpolar TaÏps cassingle series #6, and I’ve checked out #4 (Qualchan.) and #5 (German Army) already, so you should probably go back and check those out. You’ll also find the likes of Adderall Canyonly, Nicholas Langley, and Superpolar TaÏps’s own bleed Air among the releases (a veritable Who’s Who of the international experimental tape scene – this is your third reminder). This time we’re checking in on moduS ponY, and it’s like this whole series was curated with me in mind. How many moduS ponY releases have I tackled? German Army, Qualchan.? It never stops getting old. And here on “Systemmetry” we get two and a half minutes of lovely guitar, synthesizer, and rhythm track, a mathematically precise, avant-garde replication of a music box. Sure, it’s not really a music box tune, but it follows a similar pace, rhythmic pattern, and simple arrangement that, when taken altogether, sounds like the work of a master tinker, one whose deliberate placement of all elements reveals an intricate connection of each piece. We’ve come to know this of moduS ponY throughout the years, yet we can still marvel at it when it confronts us head on. And yes, this one has an unstreamable B-side too, so get to a tape! “2ystemmetry” is too weird looking a track title to pass up.


GERMAN ARMY “What Brought You Here” C5 (Superpolar TaÏps)


Continuing in the Superpolar TaÏps cassingle series following that Qualchan. one, which also features the likes of Adderall Canyonly, Nicholas Langley, and moduS pony, among others (still a veritable Who’s Who of the international experimental tape scene), we come to one of the most prolific artists you can imagine, the San Gabriel, California, duo German Army. Long known for their “critique [of] US imperialism and nationalism,” GeAr has built their brand on punishing sonics, often bordering on electronic or industrial, featuring tribal rhythms and spoken samples, and smashing at the façade of the status quo until it shatters, splintering into abstract fractals that are arguably more beautiful and interesting (and fair) than what came before. On side A of their C5, GeAr blitzes through “What Brought You Here,” a taut drum-and-bass number flecked with ethereal echoes and faded tones. It’s right out of the German Army playbook, and it satisfies every craving you’d think it might. The B-side is called “The Form of Now,” but if you want to hear it, you have to get a tape … no streaming! Which is fine, the tape’s more fun anyway.

QUALCHAN. “Bumper Music for the End Times.” C5 (Superpolar TaÏps)


Qualchan. shouldn’t be a stranger to you, and you can check their discography (a bit of which I’ve written about over the years) by clicking on the link below, or searching online by yourself, I don’t know, it’s your call. Also a thing that shouldn’t be a stranger to you: Superpolar TaÏps’s cassingle series, which has featured the likes of German Army, Adderall Canyonly, and Nicholas Langley, among others, a veritable Who’s Who of the international experimental tape scene. Each artist gets five minutes, 2.5 minutes a side, and Qualchan. peppers side A of their tape with a hearty dose of plunderphonic slow jams, an instrumental hip-hop vape track called “Bumper Music for the End Times.” Imagine if DJ Wally had smoked just a little less weed, refrained from including the giggle-inducing speech samples, and bumped up the crispness level from “dank” to “woozy” and you get the gist. As for side B … well, you’ll need to get your hands on a copy of the tape for that one, titled “To Fall in Love at the End of the World.” You’re not allowed to stream it – the authorities have their eye on you.

CLEARING “Themes” (Lillerne)


I knew it. You knew it too, you just weren’t ready to admit it yet. Or maybe you just couldn’t piece together the thought until you heard it from me. Either way, I knew it – I knew that this Clearing tape was going to simply wash over me in all shades of bliss and make me feel like deep mysteries of the universe were going to be made real to me, and also that everything was going to be OK. It’s funny how nostalgia works – longing manifests in the familiar, the safe, and curdles itself into a cold anticipation, a tempered excitement. I used to thrive on that kind of feeling all the time. I’m having nostalgia for my own nostalgia.
Joseph Volmer is Clearing, and he’s been at it for quite some time. In fact, Themes marks his fifth cassette for Lillerne. The fifteen untitled pieces – well, Themes 1 to 15, I guess – were recorded to hand-cut tape loops and layered and processed from there. Perhaps not surprisingly – I knew it – these Themes billow like clouds, vaporous, opaque, hazy, like soft-focus films of memory or faded photographs. It’s pretty safe to assume that any Clearing tape is worthy of jamming in a cassette deck any time you want the sweet swell of ambience to fill the room, and Themes continues to prove that you’ve made the right choice this time around as well.

FINAL COP/COP FUNERAL “Final Cop/Cop Funeral” (Already Dead)


An appropriate split for the times: Final Cop (German Army/Peter Kris) and Cop Funeral (Josh Tabbia) have joined forces via shared moniker noun and shared penchant for sonic destruction to superheat the establishment until it boils and expands like a bubble, bursting outward in a grimy gust of withering stench. Such is the rot at the heart of said establishment! But hey, I’m not here to get too political …
Look, you’re not going to listen to Final Cop or Cop Funeral for the nonpolitical aspects of it, so strap in bucko, or else you’re liable to get whiplash, or maybe hurtle through the windshield, as this automobile of sound and fury spins out of control. And there won’t be anyone to protect and serve you either! Final Cop does what you expect, dismantling the concept of industrial/electronic/noise and causing it to collapse around samples and synthesizers. There is an amazing track called “Solving Homeless with a Hammer” that encapsulates the cleansing burn society needs by way of blistering magmic synths walls. Final Cop: the authority every neighborhood needs.
Or also maybe Cop Funeral. The Already Dead head Tabbia mixes oily gristle in ProTools and places his laptop strategically atop a lit stove. These are all things that you should not do to oil, or gristle, or ProTools, but the results are fabulous. As Tabbia is known to do as Cop Funeral, he conjures heaving wastelands of utter despair and joylessness and somehow whirls them into a force of formless rage, a cloud of unrequited spirits back to avenge the wrongs done to them. Spotlight track: “I Tried and It Sucked,” a behemoth of disappointment, something we can all relate to these days.
True to form, Final Cop and Cop Funeral are donating all proceeds from this release to CHIRLA, the LA-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, which works “to advance human and civil rights of immigrants and refugees.” Because shouldn’t we just help people, right? Watch out for each other, pick each other up when we’re down, or maybe ensure that the most vulnerable among us aren’t helplessly ground up in the jaws of the machine?

SOLID WASTE “City of the Cosmos” (Distant Bloom)


Solid Waste has dissolved into the ether. (And yes, I know how weird that sounds.) The trio – Nate Bethel, Josh Kahl, and Mario Martinez – once stormed the St. Louis ambient/New Age scene, landing righteously and appropriately on St. Louis ambient/New Age institution Distant Bloom after a couple of other remarkable tapes elsewhere. City in the Cosmos is posthumous – we will no longer be graced with the presence of Solid Waste. (Again, that sounds weird, sorry.) But fortunately, as it happens with all things wonderful that leave us too soon, we are at least able to enjoy one last morsel of Solid Waste (sorry …) before the coming of that long, dark night.
Distant Bloom has it right – the label mentions 1970s German kosmische, 1980s Japanese environmental music, and 1980s-1990s American New Age when discussing Solid Waste. And that’s no lie – anybody mentions any one of those things in my presence and I usually start slobbering Pavlovially. So when I say City of the Cosmos hits all those beats, just know that I basically fainted from sheer joy while I listened. The trio zones out with synthesizers much of the time, but they’re not afraid to knock you out with distinct rhythms, such as the on the surprisingly upfront “Friends of the Earth” (there’s that Japanese environmental music in play!). Even “Deep Forest Portal” has the hint of a pulse, but it’s mostly the synthesizer arpeggios that carry the day. And they carry you into deep trances, all the time, spectral sci-fi goodness washing over you and leaving you floating in pristine stasis.
Isn’t that why we all came here in the first place?
This last little bit of Solid Waste is a perfect career capper, and has me glancing at my watch ready for the inevitable, welcome, and glorious reunion.

AZALEAS “Colorspace” C34 (Distant Bloom)


We now know Azaleas and Distant Bloom quite well, don’t we? We can anticipate what will emanate from our speakers and into our dining rooms and worksheds, our terrariums and yoga domes. I don’t know where you happen to listen to your melancholy ambient music in your own abode, nor do I presume to tell you how to do your thing or live your life. I will offer one piece of advice though: try to listen to Colorspace, the new Azaleas jammer, on a good set of speakers in a room that reverberates out to infinity. Maybe a glass-enclosed one with a swimming pool.
But Colorspace is so introspective that the smaller the space you’re in, the better you may be. The Azaleas trio – Alice Andres, Kat Andres, and Kyle Wade – make music like they’re breathing, each constant huff of vaporous tone a full-body hit of natural wonder. The synthesizers sparkle and twinkle like sunlight on a lake, the entire tableau distilled into the sonic equivalent of vivid wonder. But of course there are storm clouds on the horizon – when are there not? – and an existential danger lurks. But it’s out of reach, out of time, and Azaleas can only harness what they themselves can control. This they offer back to us as peaceful visions, New Age meditations on the Midwestern wind, dispersing into the atmosphere. Floating somewhere out there over us and gently coming to rest within our bodies.

KHYEX “Sparrowing” (Hotham Sound Recordings)


Vancouver’s Keith Freeman is an introspective fella. As Khyex he weaves impossibly gorgeous guitar melodies, loops and samples, and synthesizer accoutrements together into an astonishing whole, at once internally focused and also universal in scope. Vocal snippets appear throughout, and Freeman treats each one with a sense of wonder, giving each some space to breathe and allowing specific personalities to peek through. It’s like we’re listening to a dream he once had, and he’s provided us a soundtrack for it. And while it’s not, Sparrowing could easily be mistaken for a guided meditation recording. I’m feeling meditative, and it feels like there’s a purpose to the whole thing. How could there not be a purpose to this?
Maybe we’re just spectating as Freeman’s own guided meditation unfurls before us. That would explain the hermetic nature of the recordings, the insularity, the inward focus, like he’s processing everything that he’s ever encountered, all moments, important ones and mundane. How does it all together? What gives our lives meaning, purpose? We’re with him here, within him, listening to the Khyex response to stimuli, experiencing the reverberations within his own head. Maybe that’s what this tape is – a continuation of that chamber between his ears through which reverberates the mysteries of life and existence. Wouldn’t that be something if we could help him figure out what he was trying to get at this whole time? I’m sure you can email Hotham Sound if you want to bounce ideas off anybody. Or if you just want to pick one of these delightful cassette tapes up for yourself.

ENOFA “All Roads Lead to Polesworth” C60 (Third Kind)


Enofa’s a decidedly and wonderfully British electronic artist that goes by the name Ross Baker when they do their taxes each year. I don’t latch onto the Britishness of this just because “Polesworth” is in the title or because it was released on Brighton stalwart Third Kind, there’s just a sense that this hi-NRG electronic pulsefest is a total throwback to 90s raver culture, the energetic rhythms and effortless melodies perfect for that retrofuturist dancefloor. I’ve gotta say, too, that I’m a sucker for what Baker’s slinging here – I can pop this on and relax to it all day, proving that you don’t need to stand up and wiggle to thoroughly enjoy it. And trust me – I’m an expert at sitting down these days.
Baker has appeared on Third Kind before with Seltrac as International Debris, another incredible release, and if we’re going to start getting regular releases from them like this, we should probably mark our calendars for when those releases are going to happen. It’s not easy to put together such a streamlined body of work as All Roads, but Baker weaves in and out of cuts like they're assembling an expert mixtape, the more fervent tunes residing with equal comfort and natural placement next to chillaxed comedowns. So yeah, a regular schedule here would be nice. But even if we have to place All Roads in a vacuum and ingest it without context, we’re still taking in sixty minutes of the dance equivalent of high-speed future transportation, frictionless and smooth, efficient and beautiful. And winding up at Polesworth, if you can believe it.